xiii. the foreigner

14 2 5

"They never should have sent me

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"They never should have sent me."

I recognized the spit and crackle of a fireplace nearby. The radiating heat came in waves, stroking my skin like a mother cat. There was something magical about the scent of burning sap that made you feel like you were cuddled under a flannel blanket in a snowy cabin. Maybe I was dreaming.

"I told them I wasn't ready; I only scored 77% on the Earth engagement exam!"

Moving my head slightly, I decided to keep my eyes closed. After all, it was snowing outside this lovely little cabin. There was a roaring fire somewhere by me. Life was good. I must have left on the television, though — this program sounded a little peculiar.

A groan echoed from across the room. Someone mumbled something in a dark voice, and I heard the scraping of clawed feet against a stone floor. Footsteps slapped the ground, nearing.

"There's no other explanation," the voice whispered, almost at my head now. "Could it be some extraordinary coincidence?

I felt a cool hand press to my forehead, ghosting against the skin there as if a feather. Just as gently, it was gone. Maybe I imagined it.

"It should have healed you by now." The murmur came from right beside my ear. I heard a soft puff of air as someone sighed. "Why won't you awaken?"

Was this one of those rare, elusive moments where you recognize you're in a dream?

I didn't want to wake up and face the reality of my dreary life in Final Pointe. School, work. An endless stream of duties while I waited on time to take me to adulthood — to the future I so craved. To new adventures far away from this prison, with its stony mountain walls. If I dreamt a little while longer, maybe I could skip over to that part.

"Come on, Jenna," they whispered. "Don't let it take you."

The little muscles in my face twitched, pinching my forehead and the space between my brows. A TV program wouldn't know my name. Maybe it was time to wake up.

Stirring, I lifted a hand to press against my eyes. I longed to stretch, pushing my toes as far as they could go while raising my arms high above my head. A satisfying series of pops was the accordion of my spine, expanding and slipping into place.

The first stretch of the day was always the best one.

My tongue ran across my lips as I unwillingly slid open my eyes. The world around me was still fuzzy, tinted with the lens of sleep. I brought up my fists to mercilessly grind against my eyes.

"Oh, thank the stars, you're awake!"

Shrieking, I jumped to a sitting position, drawing myself up against the back of the sofa. W sat crouched on his haunches, staring at me now with wide, frightened eyes. I sunk back onto my bottom, trembling arms on either side of me, steadying me.

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